A map of Europe indicating regions in northern Finland and Spain and associated with different dyes.

Leather Bindings: Mapping Spatial Data II

By Brianna Chatmon ~

Imagine you are building a house from ground up, every single decision must coordinate with the next. If you choose a trendy back splash tile will you be prepared to renovate when that trend is no longer in style? Will that trendy back splash tile have added to your home appraisal value? Something so small as back splash tile could have a huge impact on how you move forward in the future. I draw upon this anecdote, because choosing a data visualization tool to pair with the envisioned Georeferenced Leather Database, about which I wrote previously, has been no easy choice. Conceived by staff of the NLM Conservation Program, this database will incorporate data from the publicly available SRA (Sequence Read Archive) repository developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) at NLM. The data from SRA will be used to capture DNA sequencing information, allowing us to explore where the leather from individual collection items came from, was processed, and has been treated.

A set of bar, pie, treemap and area chart.
Test visual example of real genomic data being displayed in PowerBI Pro.
A bar graph showing a dramatic rise in specialization of cattle breeds in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Number & Specialization of Cattle breeds in the US, 16th–21st Century. Learn more…

In my previous post, I introduced the project and the goal of exploring three possible data visualization tools to pair with the database. Over the last several months I have become familiar with ArcGis Pro, PowerBI Pro, and Tableau. While all three tools offer outstanding capabilities, my work has guided my team in selecting the tool that is most compatible and meets the specific needs of the Georeferenced Leather Database.

At the outset we determined that the main goal of having an interactive data visualization service integrated into the database was to enhance usability and provide visible exploration of the geographic data entered. It is more effective and easier to understand and analyze the spatial interactions and implications of data when a user can place it on a map.

To create a consistent baseline for exploring and evaluating each data visualization service, I generated several questions to explore including: Can the data visualization tool handle large data sets? Will it integrate with our existing software and upgrade without issues? Are the capabilities visually effective? Is there a learning curve to use this program?  Is it user-friendly?

My team ultimately decided that PowerBI Pro would be an effective data visualization tool for our database users. The other options we considered, namely Tableau, and ArcGIS, were also effective tools, but in the end, we based our assessment on a variety of criteria, including user knowledge of data analytics and data visualization, as well as natural language tool and plug-in capabilities, such as spatial mapping. Our decision criteria also included how best to handle large data sets and illustrate them interactively, cloud compatibilities, security, and the degree to which any tool offered an intuitive interface to enable individuals with varying levels of data knowledge to work with their data successfully.

A map of Europe indicating regions in northern Finland and Spain and associated with different dyes.
A PowerBI Pro map of Europe indicating regions associated with different leather dyes.

The next step for this project is building a prototype database, including integrating PowerBI Pro as a feature, and testing the system. The team is certainly looking forward to this phase of the project.

Having the opportunity to work with the Conservation Program has been an amazing journey. I was able to strengthen my knowledge about data visualization and advance my skill set with several different data visualization programs. In addition, I also got to meet and work with some of the illustrious minds in the library conservation field. Thank you all for tuning in and following me on this journey.

A young black woman posed informally by a stone wall.Brianna Chatmon is a 2020-2021 National Library of Medicine Associate Fellow.

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